Airbnb looks to ex­pand Cuba list­ings to non-Amer­i­cans

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN

Online home-rental ser­vice Airbnb says it is ex­plor­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of its oper­a­tions in Cuba two months af­ter it be­came the first ma­jor U.S. busi­ness to en­ter the is­land in decades.

Chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer Nathan Blechar­czyk, one of the firm’s three co­founders, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day dur­ing his first trip to Ha­vana that Airbnb had re­quested a spe­cial li­cense al­low­ing peo­ple from out­side the U.S. to use the San Fran­cisco-based busi­ness to re­serve stays at pri­vate homes in­side Cuba.

Airbnb cur­rently books lodg­ing only for U.S. res­i­dents go­ing to Cuba for 12 spe­cial pur­poses, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tional travel, re­li­gious out­reach and ap­pear­ing in ath­letic and artis­tic events.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama cre­ated blan­ket per­mis­sion for those 12 types of trav­el­ers to go to Cuba when he de­clared de­tente with Cuba late last year and carved a se­ries of ex­emp­tions in the half­cen­tury trade em­bargo on Cuba. Be­cause the ex­emp­tions are meant to in­crease per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Cubans and Amer­i­cans, they do not ap­ply to the ma­jor­ity of trav­el­ers to Cuba, who come from Canada, Europe and South Amer­ica.

“We are ap­ply­ing for a spe­cial li­cense to ac­com­mo­date non-Amer­i­cans who want to travel to Cuba for ap­proved rea­sons. That’s some­thing that’s in process,” Blechar­cyzk said. “Airbnb has the ma­jor­ity of its users out­side of the U.S. ... I think there is huge po­ten­tial to mar­ket to that au­di­ence.”

He said he was op­ti­mistic about Airbnb’s prospects but had no idea if the pro­posal would be ap­proved.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “I think the in­tent is there com­ing from the pres­i­dent in terms of the way he talks about his hope for Cuba and the di­rec­tion he wants to take, but there is a bunch of process that has to be worked through.”

Airbnb has be­come an im­por­tant player in in­ter­na­tional travel by con­nect­ing pri­vate home own­ers around the world with trav­el­ers who want to rent spa­ces rang­ing from a room in an oc­cu­pied home to an en­tire house. It has added more than 2,000 list­ings in Cuba, which has long had an ex­ten­sive net­work of le­gal pri­vate home for rent to trav­el­ers.

Blechar­czyk said home­own­ers rent­ing through Airbnb have earned US$650 apiece so far, a sig­nif­i­cant amount of in­come in a coun­try where the av­er­age salary is around US$30 a month. He said he ex­pected great fu­ture growth in Cuba, par­tic­u­larly if the U.S. con­tin­ues to loosen re­stric­tions on travel.

“Here is an is­land where there is a lot of pent-up de­mand to visit. We ex­pect a lot of trav­el­ers to want to come here and yet there isn’t a lot of ho­tel in­fra­struc­ture,” he said. “I think Cuba could easliy be on that short list of the places Amer­i­cans go.”

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